I’d set up Cape Guy, finished the 80 Days PC and Mac port and arranged a 6 month contract at Microsoft Lift to bring in the funds to cover a 6 month project.
I was ready to make a game of my own…
But Which Game Should I Make?
Deciding which game to make is essentially a blank sheet of paper problem. It’s a huge decision because it affects the entire project and decides what you’ll be doing for the duration of it. Getting it ‘wrong’ could also hinder a project before it has even really started. Though the paper isn’t really blank, it’s actually swimming with little proto-ideas (often inspired by playing other games) jostling to be the one you think is worth making!
Before I give any advice, I say getting it ‘wrong’ because I don’t believe there are really right or wrong answers to this problem. A game can be successful or not for reasons that are unforeseeable at the time that you have to choose a game to make. All you can do is try to maximise the game’s chances of success (measured however you choose).
I was watching a game design talk (probably on GDC Vault, though unfortunately I can’t remember for sure) and one idea really stuck with me as a useful trick:
Target an Individual – Not a Demographic
With large companies the term ‘targeting a demographic’ is often thrown around and it’s one I’ve often struggled with because, without hard data (which is difficult to come by – especially if you’re a small developer), you often actually end up targeting your assumptions about a demographic. A demographic which you may be just assuming exists in the first place.
For example, the ’18-29 year old’ demographic certainly exists but the interests of the individuals within the demographic are so varied that targeting it for anything beyond ‘they are more likely to have grown up playing games’ is basically pointless IMHO. On the other hand the ‘gamers who also like theatre’ demographic probably exists, but how big is it? And what can you meaningfully say about the people in it that helps you to design an actual game?
However, you can easily bypass these issues by targeting an individual – optionally who sits within whatever demographic you have in mind. They certainly represent a demographic (people with similar interests to that individual) and, most importantly, you can now ask that
demographic individual for feedback on your design or game! You can actually get them to do play testing for you, throughout development, and probably for free!
A progression of this, which I haven’t tried, would be to pick a group of fairly similar people and target that group. The critical part is that the target audience is actual people who can give you concrete feedback on your game.
Choosing to Make Ski Three
I chose to target Laura, my wife, for my game as I think I know her pretty well. I was quickly able to list the games she had really enjoyed in the last few years. In Laura’s case that was:
- Puzzlequest (the original one on the DS)
- Alto’s Adventure
- Rise of the Blobs
- Disco Zoo
- Girls like Robots
- Professor Layton (many of them)
She’s played a lot of other games but those are the ones she kept coming back to for weeks or even months. Importantly, I was able to run this list past her and even ask what she liked about them – try doing that with an abstract demographic!
A lot of these games are puzzle games and involve pattern matching or specifically match three mechanics. The outlier is Alto’s adventure which is an excellent endless runner.
So I decided my task was to create a game design which combined match three and endless runner mechanics. Something which I think Ski Three does very well. I’ll write a bit about how I went about designing it in my next post.